Friday, September 2, 2011

LA tennis legend Pancho Gonzalez inducted into US Open Court of Champions

Sept 01, 2011 | by Rich Neher

The USTA announced today that Pancho Gonzalez, a tennis pioneer, two-time U.S. National Champion, and self-taught product of Los Angeles public tennis courts in the 1940ies, has been named the 2011 inductee into the US Open Court of Champions, a US Open and USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center attraction honoring the greatest singles champions in the history of the 130 years of the U.S. Championships/US Open. Gonzalez will be inducted during a ceremony in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday evening, September 3. The ceremony will be hosted by accomplished actor and a founder of the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts Esai Morales, who will be joined by New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez for the tribute. Tennis Channel plans to air portions of the ceremony into its evening broadcast.

The US Open Court of Champions salutes the tournament’s all-time greatest champions with an individual permanent monument that serves as a lasting tribute. Gonzalez will join prior inductees Arthur Ashe,Don Budge, Maureen Connolly, Jimmy Connors, Margaret Court, Chris Evert, Althea Gibson, Steffi Graf, Billie Jean King, Jack Kramer, Rod Laver, Ivan Lendl, Molla Bjurstedt Mallory, John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Margaret Osborne duPont, Ken Rosewall, Pete Sampras, Bill Tilden and Helen Wills. A panel of international print and broadcast journalists selected the 2011 inductee from the roster of U.S. champions based on their performances at the tournament and their impact on the growth of the event.

“Pancho Gonzalez was not only a great champion but also a true pioneer in the sport of tennis,” said Jon Vegosen, Chairman of the Board and President, USTA. “He has served and will continue to serve as a role model for generations of Americans, especially Hispanic-American athletes, and I’m proud that his name will live forever amongst the greatest US Open champions."

Gonzalez broke many tennis barriers. He taught himself how to play on public courts of Los Angeles at the age of 12, and was considered one of the most talented tennis players of his generation and was a fan favorite on the professional tour throughout the 1950s and 60s. Early in his career, which spanned four decades, he won back-to-back titles at the U.S. Championships in Forest Hills, N.Y. in 1948-49. He also won two matches to help the U.S. defeat Australia to capture the 1949 Davis Cup title. His passion and intensity led to an illustrious career as the world No. 1 for an unequaled eight years. As a 40-year-old in 1968, he reached the semifinals at Roland Garros and the quarterfinals of the inaugural US Open. The following year, Gonzalez played Charlie Pasarell at Wimbledon in a five-hour match that spanned two days and led to the advent of the tie-break. Gonzalez also became the oldest player to ever win a professional tournament when he won the Des Moines Open just shy of his 44th birthday.

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